To Serve Excuses and Protect Themselves

The official police report on the Sal Culosi case was just released, according to Radley Balko. The whole ordeal of the Culosi family in waiting so long for an "official report" to tell them what they already knew - that SWAT teams should not be dispatched against non-violent, two-bit gambling suspects - is an outrageous tragedy. In his analysis of the report, Balko makes the central argument against police militarization:

Does the more traditional, less violent method of serving warrants put cops at greater risk? Maybe, though I have my doubts. But even if it does make warrant service safer for police, police are paid to take risks. That's what they sign up for. We should do everything we can to minimize those risks, but not to the point where we begin to endanger everyone else, and we violate the rights of people the police are sworn to protect.

Police safety is a very important goal, but it's not the most important one - citizen safety is. The latter justifies the establishment of a police organization; the former is something to aspire to but not the cardinal concern. If law enforcement takes the "destroy the village to save it" approach to protecting people they undermine their whole raison d'ĂȘtre.

Coupled with the SWAT team's murder of a totally nonviolent offender, the whole excuse of officer safety takes on the appearance of an elaborate sham to enable the State to do pretty much whatever it wants. The theory that the officer who killed Culosi suffered an "involuntary muscle contraction" that caused him to pull the trigger, assuming this was the cause, juxtaposes the accountability of the citizen with that of the State and its minions.

Does anyone think Chief Rohrer or DA Horan would have bought this same theory [the involuntary muscle contraction trigger pulling] if it had been put forth by anyone other than a police officer? If a resident of Fairfax claimed that an involuntary muscle contraction caused him to shoot and kill another resident, does anyone buy for a second that Horan would also decline to press charges? Once again, we get back to the unfortunate reality that regular citizens are held to a higher standard than agents of the government.

The ultimate standard, after all, is not right or wrong - it's whether or not an action is performed in an "official capacity" or not. Cue the fairy dust.

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Written on Saturday, January 13, 2007